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Venice Carnival 2016, dates, events and things to do in the city!

The Venice Carnival is a spectacular annual programme of pageantry, fancy dress, street theatre, music, fireworks and glittering gala balls that takes place in the fortnight leading up to Shrove Tuesday. With its colourful masked figures, it seems to sum up the mystery and romance of Venice.

The Carnival of Venice 2016 will run from 23rd January to 9th February. Try to time your visit for the weekends, as this is when most of the key events occur, starting with the Grand Opening on the 23rd-24th January, two days of water-borne parades and street performances.

After that, the focus shifts to the Piazza San Marco, where a stage is erected for the duration of the celebrations. At 3:00 p.m. on the 30th January, there will be the first leg of the Festa delle Marie, a beauty contest involving 12 local girls in traditional Venetian costume. Then at 10:30 a.m. on the 31st January comes The Flight of the Angel, in which a costumed figure floats down by zipwire from St Mark's Campanile into the square.

7th February begins with a morning of colourfully costumed troupes recreating 18th century minuetes and other antique dances. Then at 3:00 p.m. there will be prizes awarded in the hotly competed best masked costume contest. Finally at 4:30 p.m. on the 9th February the Carnival of Venice 2016 will draw to a close with the crowning of the winner in this year's Festa delle Marie.

Away from the main events in the Piazza San Marco you'll find plenty of other musicians and performers thronging the streets as the whole city gets into the Carnival spirit. Costumes and masks are synonymous with the Carnival of Venice, and you can get into the swing of things cheaply with an inexpensive bauta (sinister full-face mask) or colombina (romantic eye-mask) from a tourist shop, or for something more authentic head to one of the city's many traditional mask shops.

To go all out, consider renting a costume from a fashion atelier such as the Atelier Antonia Sautter, which is also responsible for one of the most sparkling gala balls of the carnival, Il Ballo del Doge, on the 6th February in the Palazzo Pisani Moretta, just off the Piazza San Marco.

Most of the biggest and grandest balls take place over the final long weekend of the Carnival. There are too many to list, but if you like a dark fairy tale twist, try The Enchanted Palace Grand Ball on 5th February, which offers a Gothic-themed theatre performance, disco and gala dinner in a luxurious private palazzo.